Saturday, June 16, 2012

C4 Corner Cutter


With my recent return to playing hex and counter wargames, I have purchased a few used games through eBay. That has reminded me repeatedly about something that drives me a little crazy. I hate fuzzy counters! The dies that were used to cut counter sheets back in the day left tabs on the edges and corners of the counters when you cut them apart. Even worse, you would have a large, fuzzy tab if you just pushed the counters out of the sheet.

I have always been a little obsessive when it comes to trimming my counters, cutting the extra tabs off if I could and clipping the corners to eliminate the fuzzies. I use a razor knife to cut the counters from the sheet, trimming off tabs as I go, and a pair of nail clippers to clip the corners. For a mini game with fifty or so counters, this is fairly simple. For some of the larger games with multiple sheets of counters, it can take quite a bit of time. Nothing will replace the razor knife for cutting the counters from the sheet, but I found a nifty device that makes trimming the corners much easier.

The C4 Counter Culture Corner Cutter is a device designed to make trimming the corners on counters easier. It consists of two plexiglass pieces attached to a plexiglass base, with a small gap at the corner. The outside edges are beveled at a 45 degree angle. It includes a plastic corner piece and a small wood block for pressing the counters into the jig. You need to use a heavy-duty x-acto or similar razor knife with a #18 chisel blade to cut the corners.

To use it, you stack your counters in the corner of the jig, snug them in place with the plastic corner and the wood block and then slice the corners off the stack. It takes a little practice to get used to the exact angle to hold the blade, and mine has a few nicks and scratches on the bevels from some of my early cuts. Once you get the hang of it, though, it does an excellent job of cutting the corners and the attached fuzzies from the counters. You can cut as many as ten counters at a time. I was able to work through several hundred counters in just under an hour, including cutting them from the original sheet.

The only drawback I have found to the device is the difficulty in cutting older tokens. Some of the dies used by Avalon Hill and SPI back in the day didn't produce uniform tokens, so you may need to run some of the counters through a second time to clip all the corners evenly. Even with this reservation, it is still a huge time saver.

Some reviewers have complained a bit about the price, suggesting that $19.95 is too expensive for a few pieces of plexiglass and a couple of bits. I completely disagree. The device is sturdily constructed and well worth the price, easily paying for itself in the amount of time it saves.

If you play wargames and clip the corners on your counters, I heartily recommend you get one of these. You can order them on eBay or directly from Dave King here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

John Carter

Yesterday I was out running some errands and happened to notice that the second-run theater had John Carter of Mars playing. On Tuesdays they only charge $1.25 to see a movie, so I popped in to see it. I have been a casual fan of Burroughs for decades, but I haven't explored Mars in quite a while. I was always a lot more partial to the Tarzan books and The Land That Time Forgot.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I have to say that I enjoyed the film. There were plenty of things that differed from the books, but most of them were not jarring enough for anyone but a diehard fan to object about.

The one that stuck out, though, is the inclusion of Carter's family and their tragic end. Obviously it was used as a cheat for making him sympathetic to the characters on Mars, but it wasn't really necessary. It was a cheap hack to give some justification for what any intelligent viewer would see as simple human empathy. It also gave him a reason for being disgruntled and jaded, which is a definite change from the original character. He comes around by the end of the movie, but it was jarring to begin with.

That quibble aside, it was a fun film with a lot of eye candy and great effects. I don't see myself rushing out to buy the DVD or anything, but I wouldn't flip the channel if it was on TV.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Free RPG Day

Free RPG Day is coming up this Saturday. Once again, none of the not-so-friendly local game stores (NSFLGSs) in Indianapolis are bothering to participate, so I won't be joining the festivities. This bothers me on many more levels than just not being able to get some cool free stuff. These shops have a perfect opportunity to promote the role-playing gaming hobby. They have a perfect chance to increase their sales, even if only for a day, and perhaps improve their longevity. They have a great chance to bring in lots of role-players and introduce other styles of gaming. But most of all, they have a chance to show that they actually care about customers.

Free RPG Day doesn't bring a lot of new people into a game store. You generally need to know what an RPG is to want to participate. It may get a player to come to a store for the first time or return to a store they haven't been to in a while. It may also get someone excited about a game they haven't seen before. It specifically gets a lot of local gamers in the same place, though, allowing them to play some games, get to know each other, and generate a local community. A good game shop becomes the obvious center of a good local community.

Unfortunately, the shops in Indy have completely missed the boat again this year. If you're lucky enough to have a participating store in your area, stop by, get some swag, and play a game. If not, you can always do like I do and get your swag from the great bloggers out there and play some good games through Google+ or Vassal. It certainly beats pouring money and attention into stores that could care less about the hobby they sell and the customers they sell to.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Battle for Moscow

Battle for Moscow is a short introductory-level wargame that was released by Game Designers Workshop in 1986. It was designed to be an introduction to both the war gaming hobby and some of the basic mechanics of their larger game, The Great Patriotic War. It recreates the German advance on Moscow in late 1941. It includes a simple 10 x 14 hex map of the area surrounding Moscow, four pages of rules, and 39 counters (17 for Soviet units and 22 for German units). The game plays very quickly and uses simple mechanics. It does a pretty good job of simulating the factors involved in the historical campaign, including the effects of terrain, mobility (German armor units move twice a turn, and Soviet troops may move by rail if they are positioned on an appropriate line), weather, and reinforcements.

I've played this game a few times solo and a couple of times with live opponents recently. In every case, the Soviets have won, although I have gotten close to a German victory in at least two games. In every game, the German side gained the upper hand quickly but eventually was overwhelmed by the combination of loss of mobility in the middle of the game (simulating the mud that bogged down the German panzers in late October and Early November) and the overwhelming Soviet reinforcements. The rules allow the Soviets five reinforcement slots per turn and the Germans one. This allows the Soviet player to quickly muster defenses in and around Moscow. Unless the German player can break the line and charge on Moscow with panzer units first turn, they quickly get tied up with defensive skirmishes.

I like this game quite a bit. It is simple and plays quickly, does an adequate job of recreating the historical situation, and has a little tactical flexibility. I'll definitely play it again, especially if it means I can get a few more people to try some old school hex-and-counter gaming.

As a side note, I also started playing a couple Battle for Moscow games by email using Vassal to get a feel for that program and see how it works as a play-by-email platform. Although it took quite a while to declare and resolve all of the attacks in a turn, this seems like an ideal way to play a game when I can't get opponents in real time at the same table. I'll definitely be using the program to play some other games as well, and I'll report back with how they work out. If you use Vassal to play games and want to give something a go, drop me a line.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Playing with other people's toys

I'm still running my Labyrinth Lord game every other week or so. The group started in the Keep on the Borderlands, which I placed in Greyhawk on the southern edge of the territory controlled by Verbobonc. So far, the group has dealt with some bandits, a group of marauding orcs, a small ban of lizardmen, and the mad hermit. They've explored some of the ruins of Quasqueton, discovered a pair of towers with an extra-dimensional gate connecting them, and travelled to a neighboring town in search of information and more spells for the magic-user's spellbooks. Most recently, the halfling thief came under the effect of a geas spell and took the party off in the middle of the night to recover some water from a ruined temple to heal a reclusive wizard as payment for those spells. They've gained a few allies, turned away from others, wiped out some enemy factions and let other enemies live to fight another day. The group is starting to realize that I will let them do whatever they want in the sandbox and that the world will just keep reacting to whatever they decide to do.

So far for this campaign, I've used parts of three printed Basic modules from TSR, one TSR AD&D module, three adventures from Dungeon, a couple of 3E splatbooks, the World of Greyhawk folio and boxed set, a couple of references from the Living Greyhawk campaign, a little background from three different 2E boxed campaign supplements, an antagonistic race from Mystara, and maps from all over the place. And that's just from a few months of gaming!

Earlier tonight, they started exploring some catacombs under a ruined temple dedicated to Pelor and encountered some immature chuuls and a few other creatures in thrall to some unknown evil. I based the surface map on the ruins in an old adventure from Dungeon magazine ("Orange and Black" from issue 66). The catacombs are based on a map that someone posted on the Old School Gamers group on Facebook a couple days ago. The NPCs in this particular arc come from the Thieves World books that were published in the 80s, stories of settlers in Indiana and Kentucky around 1775-1800, Neville Chamberlain, a couple of Lovecraft stories, and an old Moon Knight comic. The chuul and the elder evil the party ran away from at the end of tonight's session came from one of the later 3E splatbooks.

I had plenty of ideas for what was going to be in the catacombs a few weeks ago. Today I decided to sit down and write it all out and expand it using the random dungeon stocking tables from the LL book. I stocked the dungeon and wrote everything on a single page in about 3 hours this afternoon. I was able to do that because I borrowed freely from so many sources and just ran with whatever seemed good at the particular time I was stocking each room.

It's not a developed and polished dungeon. It's fairly simple, really. But the players seemed to have a good time playing, and I definitely had a good time running. If I had worried about polishing everything and trying to create something completely new, I would have driven myself crazy and had nowhere near as much fun. I've seen plenty of people come down against using published adventures and stolen stories and characters. I am definitely coming down the other way. I'll take anybody's toys I can! As long as I can keep things fun and interesting, who cares where the ideas originated. My players and I are having fun with the Frankenstein's monster of a campaign we've created. That's all that matters.

Once the players get through some of the things they're doing now (and assuming I can get permission from some of the mappers I've borrowed maps from), I'll post some of what I've done so you can see it. In the meantime, I'm off to check out more stuff to incorporate into the game.